Magna Online Seminars

Beyond Coverage: Backward Design for Disciplinary Thinking

Your Design Is All Backward (or It Should Be)

How do we ever find time to teach students how to think when there is so much information they need to know? It’s a common conundrum in entry-level general education courses that cover a wide swath of disciplinary material. 

Maybe the answer is to turn that operating assumption on its head. In other words, stop trying to cover all that content and start focusing on the kind of thinking you really want to see in your students. That’s the idea behind Beyond Coverage: Backward Design for Disciplinary Thinking.

Applying Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe's concept of "backward design" to general education courses shift course design from disciplinary content to disciplinary thinking. Content becomes a raw material, a tool for exploring the key ways of constructing knowledge that constitute disciplinary modes of thinking, rather than an end in itself. Assessments then focus on applying course content to authentic questions and problems within the discipline. Students will apply their knowledge, not just memorize it, and instructors will know whether students have mastered disciplinary concepts. 

Participants of this seminar receive a set of self-assessment questions to help them evaluate current backward design strategies, teach disciplinary thinking, and align classroom activities, assessments, and learning goals. 

The presenters also share a sample learning goals matrix, classroom activities, and assessments, all of which are geared toward promoting disciplinary thinking. Participants get an outline of the backward design process to use for personal reference or to share with colleagues. 

You don’t have to teach through all the content before you start teaching disciplinary thinking. Backward design takes you straight where you want to go with student learning. Order today and learn how to put it to work in your courses.

Topics Covered

Explore backward design. It is a revolutionary approach to general education instruction. 

Beyond Coverage: Backward Design for Disciplinary Thinking covers how to:

  • Use a backward design process to develop or revise a course
  • Identify ways of thinking and constructing knowledge that are appropriate for a disciplinary general education course
  • Refocus course design—including classroom activities, assignments, and assessments—on disciplinary thinking rather than on coverage

There really isn’t anything backward about backward design. In fact, it is a powerful tool that can help you clarify your learning goals, bring your assignments and exams into alignment with these goals, and better use classroom activities to cultivate the student learning that you value most.


This seminar not only examines what backward design is but also uses case studies to show how it transforms courses and improves student learning. Participants walk through the backward design process to see how resetting learning goals and modifying in-class activities and assessments can enable them to push beyond content and into disciplinary thinking—regardless of the discipline.

Learn From Experts

Joel Sipress, Ph.D., is a Professor of History and chair of the interdisciplinary Department of Social Inquiry at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.  He has published articles on the history of the American South and has authored or co-authored several articles on the scholarship of teaching and learning history. 

David Voelker, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Humanistic Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. He is currently co-director of his university’s Teaching Scholars program.  Sipress and Voelker published an essay in the March 2011 issue of the Journal of American History entitled, “The End of the History Survey Course: The Rise and Fall of the Coverage Model,” which won the 2012 Maryellen Weimer Scholarly Work on Teaching and Learning Award. 

Who Should Watch this CD 

Beyond Coverage: Backward Design for Disciplinary Thinking addresses issues salient to any undergraduate higher education setting where students must meet general education requirements. Those who will benefit from participating in this seminar include:

  • Instructors
  • Instructional designers
  • Department heads
  • Anyone concerned with improving student learning


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